What do the Best Direct Response Agencies Look Like?

Are you struggling to execute a direct response marketing program that yields results? If so, you’re not alone. Industry research shows 45% of mail campaigns are produced by in-house teams, which can be a heavy lift for brands looking to do more with less.

The good news is there’s a solution. Whether you are looking to scale your customer acquisition strategy beyond digital channels, or optimize your existing direct mail program, partnering with the best direct response agency for your campaign is key to achieving your growth objectives. But how do you choose the right partner for your business? Keep reading for an ultimate guide on what to look for (and what to avoid) in a direct response marketing agency.

Prefer to listen? Check out our podcast The Direct Effect: What do the Best Direct Response Agencies Look Like?

Full-Service Approach

To achieve a smooth, scalable, and efficient direct mail program, we recommend a full-service agency. These teams have all the necessary experts in-house, from design work and data analysis to production and account management.

While automated platforms can be convenient and affordable, they can also lead to irreversible mistakes such as duplicated postal data or poor printing quality. Partnering directly with a printer can be an option, but internal unfamiliarity with print manufacturing or postal requirements may result in increased production and postage costs. At a full-service agency, dedicated partners manage each aspect of your campaign, from package strategy and targeting to execution and analytics. This includes a detailed merge-purge process for a clean mailing list and conducting on-site press checks to ensure your mailers are printed on-brand and error-free.

At the heart of any great partnership is collaboration and transparency. Look for an agency that prioritizes clear and timely updates on campaign progress and decision-making. This includes regular communication about strategy, analytics, and financial expectations before, during, and following your campaign.

For example…

SeQuel helped a retailer increase traffic and sales at their seasonal pop-up locations through postcards featuring exclusive offers. SeQuel willingly adapted to changes in store locations and offered daily analytics reports to monitor trends, resulting in the achievement of critical quarterly goals.

Vast Data Network and High Data Security Standards

The quality of data sources used to build your mailing list sets the stage for a performing campaign. Yet, 50% of marketers worry about reaching their audience because of increased data security regulations for offline modeling data. Limiting your data availability can mean limiting your results and growth. After all, real-world data sourcing competition is incredibly powerful.

The best direct response agencies practice a data-agnostic approach and have access to multiple databases. This means they collect accurate and relevant consumer attributes to identify the most promising lists of prospective targets. Then, data records are combined to produce one unique and complete record for each consumer on your list to reduce waste and ensure deliverability.

Data security is a vital aspect of an agency’s overall data philosophy. Look for partners with high data security standards, certifications, and processing practices. AICPA, SOC2, and HIPAA Seal certifications show an agencies’ dedication to keeping data private and secure.

For example…

A real estate company wanted to scale its direct mail marketing program at a desirable cost-per-inquiry (CPI) metric. SeQuel’s data team leveraged buyer-level intent data sources to identify the brand’s top prospects. These data models presented new wins that broadened the customer base beyond the client’s current in-house list sourcing techniques.

Proven Testing Methodology

Recent data reveals that 79% of marketers plan to experiment with automation, lists, creative components, digital integration, and offers this year. Regardless of the elements you’re interested in exploring, the best direct response agencies conduct mail tests in a calculated and systematic fashion to accurately identify which campaign variables are impacting response. Without statistical significance fueling your campaign decisions, you could see great performance in one mail drop and then a plummet in the next – after you’ve already increased program spend and channel confidence.

By balancing the risk and reward of campaign testing, you can confidently test each element of your campaign to find your winning combination of data, creative, and offer. Then, when results validate what is working and what is not working, you will never waste your funds or efforts on combinations that are yielding negative results. By choosing a mail partner that regularly conducts rigorous testing and analysis for your campaign, you can be confident in building a sustainable direct mail program.

For example…

A hearing aid manufacturer sought to expand its audience and improve cost per acquisition. SeQuel implemented the FaQtor Test™ methodology for the brand’s initial mailing, identifying the optimal combination of data and creative. The knowledge gained during the testing period ultimately led to an evergreen program that rapidly increased from 50,000 to 500,000 pieces.

Flexible, Multichannel Services

Since direct mail and digital marketing share targeting strengths, they complement each other very well. Marketers agree, as 91% believe integration has a positive impact on campaign performance. That’s why the best direct response agencies offer multichannel or omnichannel services, so your direct mail programs can be integrated with programmatic digital ads, linear TV, CTV|OTT, influencer marketing, digital audio, SMS, and email marketing.

Not only will an integrated direct response program multiply your touchpoints and increase your effectiveness, it will also allow brands to leverage digital marketing channels to pretest audiences, creative strategies, and more in a nimble environment. Then, those learnings can guide final direct mail design and other campaign elements.

We also recommend choosing an agency that offers both shared and solo mail. This allows you to choose the approach that is best for your brand, budget, and growth goals. Some of our clients are exclusive to shared or solo direct mail strategies, while others use a shared package alongside a solo program to drive additional sales during a critical cycle, or to test new data or creative. Regardless of your current objective, you deserve a flexible direct mail program that can shift as you need it to.

For example…

A fitness brand partnered with SeQuel to increase audience reach and conversions. SeQuel’s testing methodology saved 20% in the first year, and they introduced SeQuel Surround™, a digital campaign synced with mail. The partnership continued to evolve, and SeQuel Shared Mail was eventually added to expand reach and hit CAC goals. Direct mail has emerged as a top-performing channel for the brand thanks to a versatile marketing strategy and a collaborative partnership.

No Unnecessary or Hidden Fees

Did you know that budget constraints are a concern among 22% of marketers? To get the most out of your budget, the key is to look for cost-effective services that can help you maximize your return on investment.

Keep in mind that different agencies have different payment structures. Some require upfront payment, charge hourly fees, or operate on retainers to ensure they are paid, even if you are not mailing. Others maintain low fees and have a cost-per-piece model tied to the program’s success. Some even allow your campaign to generate sales before your final balance is due to help with your cash flow.

Our biggest tip is to avoid onboarding fees, hourly fees, or other hidden fees that may be common in the industry. This way, the cost you see is the cost you pay, with no surprises or unexpected expenses.

For example…

This DTC brand challenged SeQuel to optimize its direct mail acquisition program and stay net neutral in its annual budget. By testing a new approach to prospect modeling and optimizing the design to be more efficient, SeQuel helped the brand achieve cost savings without dropping off in performance.

Small and Nimble Teams

If you’re looking for a direct marketing partner who can provide tailored services to meet your unique needs, consider working with a small, nimble team. Unlike larger agencies, smaller agencies consist of carefully selected members with a wealth of knowledge and experience. This translates to a proactive service that is driven by anticipation, not reaction.

Agencies with fewer team members are highly collaborative, so you can expect your needs to be addressed promptly without delays or miscommunications. Choosing a small team of direct marketing experts can be an excellent investment for your business, ensuring your needs are met with the highest dedication and attention to detail.

For example…

When an online retailer was struggling to find scale with their existing direct mail program, SeQuel swiftly tested 610K records and deployed innovative models and creative. SeQuel’s nimble team achieved 479% ROI in just 60 days, demonstrating the effectiveness of a collaborative and efficient approach.


Take the time to research and compare different agencies, and don’t be afraid to ask questions to find the best fit for your unique needs. Be on the lookout for awards, case studies, and testimonials from previous clients to ensure they have evidenced experience and a proven track record.

By partnering with a direct response agency with these key characteristics, you can rest assured that your marketing campaigns will drive action in no time.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your marketing goals and be sure to download our Direct Mail Industry Benchmark Report here. We also have a free checklist to ensure you ask the right questions to find the best direct response agency for your marketing goals.